CORBAN is a Hebrew word (קָרִבָּן) which appears in the Greek of Mark 7:11,
transliterated κορβᾶν or κορβάν, and in this form passes into the English Versions. The same word in a modified form occurs also in Matthew 27:6,
εἰς τὸν κορβανᾶν, ‘into the treasury.’ The termination -ας in κορβανᾶς is the Greek method of indicating the Aramaic determinative in קָרבָנָא. Codex B reads κορβᾶν for κορβανᾶν.
The word has three meanings: (1) An offering, both bloodless and otherwise. In this sense it occurs about 80 times in OT, always in Leviticus and Numbers, except twice in Ezekiel. In Authorized and Revised Versions it is rendered ‘offering’ or ‘oblation,’ but in LXX Septuagint it is rendered by δῶρον, ‘a gift,’ and this is the translation given to κορβᾶν in Mark 7:11
. (2) A vow-offering, something dedicated to God. In this sense it occurs in the Heb. and Aram.
portions of the Talmud, and also in Josephus. In his Antiquities, iv. iv. 4, Josephus says of the Nazirites: ‘They dedicate themselves to God as a corban, which in the language of the Greeks denotes “a gift.” ’ So also in circa (about) Apion. i. 22, he speaks of corban as a ‘kind of oath, found only among Jews, which denotes “a thing devoted to God.” ’ (3) The sacred treasury into which the gifts for the Temple service were cast by the pious; or, the treasure therein deposited. Thus, in BJ, ii. ix. 4, Josephus says that Herod ‘caused a disturbance by spending the sacred treasure, which is called corban, upon aqueducts.’ So in Matthew 27:6
the high priests say to one another: ‘It is not lawful to cast them (Judas’ silver pieces) into the treasury (εἰς τὸν κορβανᾶν, B* κορβᾶν), for it is the price of blood.’
The passage in which corban occurs in our English Bible is Mark 7:11
. Our Lord is there replying to the criticism of the Pharisees that the disciples ate food with hands ceremonially unclean. Christ’s reply is a retort. He accuses the Pharisees of attaching too much value to the tradition of the elders, so as even in some cases to set aside in their favour the plain moral commandments of God. The words of Jesus are: ‘Is it well for you to set aside the commandment of God, in order that ye may observe your tradition? For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, He that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, If a man has said to his father or mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been benefited from me is corban, that is, a gift,
. Ye no longer allow him to do anything for his father or mother.’ The same incident is recorded, with slight variations, in Matthew 15:3-5
Commentators are divided as to whether the dedication was meant seriously, and the property actually given to God and put into the treasury; or whether the utterance of the word was a mere evasion, and when the magic word corban had been uttered over any possession, the unfilial son was able to ‘square’ matters with the Rabbis, so as to be free from obligation to support his aged parents (Bruce on Matthew 15:5
). It must be admitted that the Jews were much addicted to making rash vows. One tractate in the Talmud, Nedarim, is specially devoted to the subject. We there find that the customary formula among the Jews for devoting anything to God was, ‘Let it be corban’; though, to allow a loophole of possible escape from the vow if they regretted it afterwards, they were in the habit of using other words which sounded like corban. Nedarim, i. 2, says: ‘When any one says “konâm, or konâh, or konâs (be this object, or this food),” these are by-names for korbân.’ These words came to be used as a mere formula of interdiction, without any intention of making the thing interdicted ‘a gift to God’; e.g., a man seeing his house on fire, says, ‘My tallith shall be corban if it is not burnt” (Ned. iii. 6). In making a vow of abstinence a man says: ‘Konâs be the food (vi. I) or the wine (viii. 1) which I taste.’ When a man resolves not to plough a field, he says, ‘Konâs be the field, if I plough it’ (iv. 7), Repudiation of a wife is thus expressed, ‘What my wife might be benefited by me is konâs (קוֹנָם אָשָׁחָּי נָהֲנַת לִי), because she has stolen my cup’ or ‘struck my son’ (iii. 2). In viii. 11 we have the very same formula as in Mark 7:11,
except that we have the subterfuge or substitute, קוֹנָם for קָרְבָּן, קוֹנָם שָׁאַתָּ נהֱנָה לי (Lowe’s â, p. 88).
It is not necessary to think that Jesus had such cases of recklessness in His mind. We prefer to believe that He was thinking of bonâ fide vows, made to the Temple, hastily, perhaps angrily, without sufficient regard to the claims of aged parents. The question was a very intricate one, What ought the Rabbis to advise the man to do? The Law was most emphatic in its insistence that all vows, when once made, must be kept (Deuteronomy 23:21-23
). Which has the higher claim on a man’s conscience? The service of God, promoted by the gift, and the Law obeyed by keeping the vow inviolate? or, the support of poor aged parents, the Law broken and the vow violated? It was a delicate matter, and we can scarcely wonder that the Rabbis of Christ’s day adhered to the literal significance of Deuteronomy 23:21-23,
and held that nothing could justify the retractation of a vow. In other words, they allowed the literal and the ceremonial to override the ethical. Jesus disclosed a different ‘spirit,’ as He ruled that duty to parents is a higher obligation than upholding religious worship, or than observance of a vow rashly or thoughtlessly made.
In Nedarim, ix. 1, we find Eliezer ben Hyrkanos (circa (about) a.d. 90), who in many respects felt the influence of Christianity, give the same view as the Lord Jesus with regard to rash vows. We translate the passage thus—
‘R. Eliezer said that when rash vows infringe at all on parental obligations, Rabbis should suggest a retractation (lit. open a door) by appealing to the honour due to parents. The sages dissented. R. Zadok said, instead of appealing to the honour due to parents, let them appeal to the honour due to God; then might rash vows cease to be made. The sages at length agreed with R. Eliezer that if the case be directly between a man and his parents
, they might suggest retractation by appealing to the honour due to parents.’
The words of R. Meîr (circa (about) a.d. 150) are also interesting in this connexion as given in Nedarim, ix. 4–
‘One may effect a retractation of a rash vow by quoting what is written in the Law. One may say to him: If thou hadst known that thou wast transgressing such commandments as these, “Thou shalt not take vengeance nor bear a grudge”; “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart”; “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”
; “Thy brother shall live with thee”
,—wouldst thou have made the vow? Perhaps thy brother may become poor, and thou (because of thy rash vow) wilt not be able to support him. If he shall say, If i had known that it was so, I would not have made the vow,—he may be released from his vow.’
These quotations show that, in some directions, the spirit of humaneness was triumphing over the literalism which Jesus combated in His day.
Literature.—The Mishnic treatise, Nedarim; artt. on ‘Corban’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, Encyc. Bibl., and Jewish Encyc.; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, ii. 17 ff.; the Commentaries of Wetstein, Grotius, and Bruce on Matthew 15:5
and Mark 7:11
; Lightfoot’s Hor. Heb., and Wünsche’s Erlaüterung, in loco.
J. T. Marshall.